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My narcissistic wife is ruining my life

She has affairs without remorse. If we divorce, she wants all my money plus our three kids


Cary Tennis
January 26, 2012 6:02AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

About three years ago my father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. I drove three hours back and forth to my hometown every week or so to see him and spend a few days helping him and my mom. I was focused on helping my parents cope and everything else seemed somewhat pointless to me. I was depressed. While my attention was distracted by my father's illness and subsequent death, my wife began an affair with a married man in town. I was grieving and oblivious. As their relationship progressed, the happy couple wanted to spend more time with each other (and in public) so they surreptitiously pushed their respective families together so that we all could be friends. I should have seen it a mile away but my mind was elsewhere. I had just met these people and suddenly my wife, kids and I were vacationing with them.

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The affair went on for a year before I became suspicious. I never suspected him but I knew something wasn't right. I watched her cry at our 13th wedding anniversary dinner. It looked like she was crying over a breakup. She was. His wife had just found out but the three of them were not telling me. I went through the phone bills and quickly confirmed my suspicions. I confronted her, she admitted it and I was crushed.

We went to counseling, yet she refused to admit that what she had done was in any way wrong. In fact, she said that until she got caught it was the best year of her life, having a happy home life and a secret lover.

Nonetheless, I started trying to put the pieces back together for the sake of our three children. But I was still suspicious. She left her computer on at home one day and when I peeked at her email I found that she was planning a rendezvous with another married man (out of town) with whom she had had another affair several years earlier. We went back to therapy and the therapist advised that she "come clean" about all of her affairs. The number quickly shot to seven including one-night stands with my daughter's gymnastics coach, an old college boyfriend and a threesome (two guys and her). Needless to say, I now can't get the images of all of these guys out of my head and it has significantly impacted my ability to perform in bed. We also argue a lot now. When she argues she says the most horrific things. She recently told me that I am the worst lover she has ever had. She had all of three before we were married and in the first 10 years of her marriage she used to tell me that the main thing we had in common was great sex. I guess that changed when she started getting some strange.

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She still makes no apologies for her cheating. She has this bizarre sense of entitlement and feels that no one man could ever fulfill her completely so she should be able to get what she needs emotionally and physically from multiple people. She has said, "Wedding vows are a joke because pretty much everyone cheats anyway," and I am "naive and a prude" and the only one of my friends who doesn't cheat on his wife and that's because I am "sexually repressed" whereas she is "fabulous" and "great in bed" and everywhere she goes she can instantly tell how many men want to sleep with her. She is quite beautiful, I will give her that. She's also a narcissist.

Recently I was on the road for business and couldn't get in touch with her. I subsequently learned that while our kids were in school she had traveled out of town to have lunch with someone. I don't know who, but I soon found out that this lunch was preceded by dozens of hour-long phone conversations to and from a private number. She will not come clean about it, only saying that she is allowed to have "friends" and that there was "no sex." She claims that she's done with the "cheating phase" of her life but should be allowed to have male friends. The more I type the more sickened I am that I am still in this relationship but I have three wonderful children and I want to continue to live with them and guide them into adulthood. I have no desire for them to end up living with some random guy that wants to be called "Dad" and has his own views of parenting.

After a few too many glasses of wine a few weeks ago, she matter-of-factly stated that if we divorce she will sue to be the custodial parent (which she will get because she's a stay-at-home mom), that I will have to "pay up big" and if I "try to hide any future income" that she is owed, she will get the best lawyers to find it and get me "thrown in jail" until I pay her every nickel. I apparently deserve all that because she gave birth to our three children. She has a college degree from a big-name university but hasn't worked since our first child was born.

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Do I really live in a country in which I have to stay married to a woman who has remorselessly admitted to cheating rampantly (no-fault divorce!) or be resigned to seeing my children every other weekend and writing her checks for half my net worth upfront and up to a third of my gross income for the rest of my life? And don't tell me that at least the alimony part will end when she remarries. What woman who says she can't get what she needs from only one man would ever remarry?

Screwed for the Rest of My Life

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Dear Screwed,

You have to get out of this relationship.

You're going to need help. The High Conflict Institute would be a good place to start.

Dr. William Eddy's book "High-Conflict People in Legal Disputes" may also help.

You don't have to lose. There is help for you.

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You're not the only man in such a situation. Perhaps you will relate to the following scenario, posted by "SusyP" on the Daily Strength discussion forum under the headline "Predatory Female Narcissists":

"Narcissistic woman selects the power professional -- handsome, well educated, high income, socially polished, near the top. She maneuvers herself into meeting him. He finds her dazzling, gorgeous, attentive to him and filled with the right chemistry. Her detailed plan is unfolding. He is enraptured. She cleverly feigns her inability to resist him. The two are inseparable. In a few months she is pregnant. He is surprised but subject to his instincts and impulses. She wants marriage, money and lifestyle. He acquiesces. They marry. For a while it's appear idyllic. Then the worm turns. The marriage begins to falter (part of her plan). He was so taken with her, there is no prenup. After a while, lawyers are hired. She knows the cleverest ones since she has directed this movie before. She gets more than half of the money and possessions. Narcissistic divas use a living human being they call their child as collateral to ensure their financial security and the success of her enterprise."

She recommends The Narcissist in Your Life site.

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So, this is not hopeless. But you need to act. Consult with an attorney. Not just any attorney. Consult with an attorney who knows how to deal with high-conflict individuals and also is familiar with the personalities and biases in his or her venue.

You may believe that social services and the family law justice establishment are biased against you. But how could a judge or social worker reasonably disregard your wife's deceit, erratic behavior and disregard for the feelings of others? Call me naive, but do not lose hope. Learn what you can about dealing with high-conflict people in divorce proceedings, get some counseling for your own well-being, and get on the road to recovery from this nightmare.

I know that you can emerge from this. After all, though she has treated you cruelly, you are not the sick one. You at least have the capacity to live a life of reason and care for others. Take some consolation in the fact that her inner life must also be a kind of hell, whereas you are a decent man, capable of honest, caring relationships with others. Get some help for your grief. You've been through a lot. Don't assume that she will prevail.

No matter what happens, you, at least, can be happy. You can live a fulfilling life. That cannot be said for a person driven by anxiety, fear and delusion, incapable of loving in a healthy way.

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Good luck to you, sir!

(p.s. In searching the Web for information on narcissism you may come across the postings of an unusual and controversial personality known as Sam Vaknin. His words may sound compelling but must be read critically and with caution. I found this discussion of his bona fides helpful.-- ct)


Cary Tennis

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